What procrastination feels like and 11 ways to overcome it

leadership mindset personal effectiveness Feb 22, 2023
What procrastination feels like and 11 ways to overcome it. | Picture of clock with teal blue and white background. White text on blue and blue he Tourism Space logo with blue border.

 Procrastination: The act of delaying or postponing a task or action that needs to be done, often to the point of discomfort or stress and even if there are negative consequences.

Procrastination – funny but not so funny

We joke a lot about procrastination.

We conjure a range of caricatures and stereotypes when it comes to procrastination – the Lazy Couch Potato, the Flustered Scatterbrain, the Last Minute Panicker, the ‘There’s-loads-of-time-for-that’ Delusionist, the ‘I’ll-do-that-once-I’ve-done-this’ Avoider…

It allows us to self-deprecate and self-dismiss: ‘oh don’t mind that, that’s just me procrastinating’. ‘You know I’m procrastinating when the hoovering is done, my office is tidied, the stationary cupboard is cleared out and I’ve written a few thank you cards! It’s great really.'

It allows us be the butt of our own joke.

However, procrastination is no laughing matter.


Real consequences of procrastination

While everyone procrastinates to some extent, the frequency and severity of procrastination can vary from person to person. Some people may only procrastinate occasionally, while others may struggle with chronic procrastination that has a significant impact on their personal and professional lives.

Here are some very real and very debilitating consequences of procrastination:

  • Missed opportunities
  • Feelings of unfulfilled potential
  • Sense of unrealised dreams
  • Higher stress and anxiety
  • Lower confidence and self-esteem
  • Negative impact on relationships
  • Decreased productivity
  • Significant time wastage that could have been spent in a more enjoyable of fulfilling way

We do ourselves a great disservice when we trivialise procrastination as a joke.


How does procrastination make you FEEL?

For me, as a self-confessed procrastinator, the most significant of those is feelings of not doing justice to your potential and your dreams, as well as bad feelings related to letting others down.

Here are some ways that different coaching clients of mine have described how procrastination makes them feel:

  • “It’s like having a dark cloud follow you around. It makes you feel gloomy and it’s hard to see the light and the opportunities when it’s always in your way.”
  • “It’s like a ball and chain – heavy, holding me down, pulling me back”
  • “It’s like a leaky tap – small drips that you hardly notice suddenly turn into a flood of missed deadlines and unfinished tasks”
  • “I’m on a constant merry-go-round in my head – I just can’t get off and get moving”
  • “It’s like being on a treadmill – always running but never getting anywhere”

These are eloquent and powerful metaphors that were offered spontaneously and with feeling. What is clear is that the true consequence of procrastination is not the unfinished or untouched task, it’s the psychological impact on one’s confidence, self-esteem and energy.


What causes procrastination?

People think that procrastination is down to poor time management. That’s partly true and I refer to this as Tactical Procrastination – it can be helped by implementing well known and readily available tactics. However, time management is not the primary cause of procrastination. Rather our own internal self-limiting beliefs are.

Various research studies show that that the number one cause of procrastination is Fear of Failure, followed by Fear of Others (and what they might think) and then Perfectionism. Lack of Motivation or Interest in a task can be a key contributing factor as can Feelings of Overwhelm. All of these are internal psychological factors that no amount of time management tactics will alleviate.


3 ways to overcome Psychological Procrastination


1. Address your Fears

Think about what is really holding you back here. Fear of failure is the Number 1 cause of procrastination when it comes to bigger tasks and projects. I like to remember the words of Dr. Michael Ryan from the World Health Organisation when addressing the public at the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic:

Dr. Ryan was facing a much larger issue that I expect I will ever face in my working life. If it was valid in the face of a global pandemic, it’s certainly valid in work in general.


 2. Abandon perfectionism

If you’re a Perfectionist, you’ll understand how ridiculous that sounds. It’s not easy to walk away from perfectionist tendencies – doing so brings a whole other set of anxieties and worries. However, perfectionism is debilitating. In every case and without exception, I believe that Action Trumps Perfection. Perfection exists only in our minds and never in reality. Staying in our minds prevents us actually moving in reality. Any action, no matter how imperfect, has to be better than staying paralysed and immobile.


3. Address Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is a limiting and debilitating feeling that limits your potential and undermines your confidence. It’s caused by negative thoughts about yourself and your ability to succeed. 

Ask yourself why you are doubting yourself. What evidence is there that you couldn’t achieve what you want to achieve? What evidence is there that you actually can? List your successes and accomplishments so that you can practice positive self-talk. Step forward into your light and fill your head with positive self-talk, based on the evidence of your successful track record, your innate talents and your learned skills. Write down all the best affirmations you can use that chase away that imposter syndrome. Be your own cheerleader!


8 ways to overcome Tactical Procrastination

Of course, time management and productivity techniques can help deal with procrastination, once you’ve addressed the underlying psychological issues. Here are some of the most recommended ones and thanks to those who joined The Huddle this Monday for sharing many of these:

  1. Plan every day in advance.
  2. Prioritise tasks according to their level of importance and urgency. The 80:20 rule can be useful – 80% of your progress comes from 20% of your actions. Check out the Eisenhower Priority Matrix.
  3. Do your least loved task first (reference Brian Tracy’s Bestseller ‘Eat The Frog’). If you do that, you’re released from negative thoughts about it for the day and everything else will seem easier to complete.
  4. Adopt the ‘Touch Things Once’ Rule – don’t allow things to hang around on your desk or in your mind. Do one of 3 things instead: deal with it, delegate it or dump it.
  5. Break the task down into smaller chunks and work through them one by one.
  6. Put pressure on yourself and get an Accountability Partner or Group.
  7. Block time for important tasks, switch off devices and email until it’s complete.
  8. Use Google’s Digital Wellbeing App which allows you to measure how much time you spend online (and then manage it!)


Benefits of overcoming procrastination

I have worked very hard and with some success to overcome procrastination, mainly with the help of professional coaches and being part of groups with an accountability mechanism. I love supporting clients in dealing with it so they can release themselves from debilitating and self-imposed burdens.

Here are some of the powerful questions that have helped me (and may help you) make addressing procrastination a priority of my own personal development:

  • What impact is it really having on you?
  • How much is procrastination costing your bank account?
  • How much is it costing your career? Your business?
  • How is it damaging your relationships?
  • How different would your work and your life be if procrastination wasn’t a feature?

So while I may never fully beat procrastination, I know that dealing with it head-on leads to a more fulfilling and productive life, a greater sense of satisfaction, better mental and emotional well-being, more self-confidence, greater momentum, more opportunities, improved productivity and fewer feelings of failure. All worth a little bit of effort to achieve, eh?


Tina O'Dwyer

Tina is a Certified High Performance Coach specialising in tourism. If you’d like to know more about our leadership workshops and one-to-one coaching programmes, you can contact us at [email protected]

Stay Connected with News and Updates!

Sign up and receive the latest news from The Tourism Space™ and our weekly article straight to your inbox.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.




Sustainability Policy


Email: [email protected]


We use cookies to improve your experience, by your continued use of this site you accept such use.
For more view our Privacy Policy